The seven Harry Potter novels have sold more than 450 million copies and are the best-selling book series in history. With such a rabid and loyal fan base, it was a foregone conclusion that Hollywood would come knocking on author J.K. Rowling’s door. In 1998, Warner Bros. purchased the rights to the first two novels for more than $1 million, and director Chris Columbus had the pleasure— and challenge—of casting all the various characters who would entertain audiences for the next 10 years.
The three main characters, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger, were perfectly cast with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, respectively. Audiences got to see these three kids grow up as people and actors over the years, and Warner Bros. executives were able to keep them and the rest of the all-star cast together until the final film in 2011.
Little Nemo and his dad, Marlin, are the only survivors of a barracuda attack that took his mom and not-yet-hatched siblings. On Nemo’s first day of school (fish in a school—who knew?), he swims out beyond safety and is scooped up by a scuba diver. The distraught Marlin sets out on a journey to find him. In his quest, he meets up with a memory-challenged fish, Dory; a trio of sharks in a fish-anonymous rehab group; a convoy of surfer-dude turtles; a great blue whale; and more.
Eight years have passed since the complicated events of The Dark Knight. The Batman (Christian Bale) has taken the blame for the death of district attorney Harvey Dent in an attempt to inspire the people of Gotham City to stand strong against crime. With the subsequent passage of the Dent Act, Gotham is tougher on criminals than ever, even while The Bat has disappeared, his alter ego Bruce Wayne living in self-imposed exile.
If it weren’t for the 2012 presidential election and the recent public shaming of Anthony Weiner and David Petraeus, we might have a difficult time finding any credibility in the outrageous humor of The Campaign. Scandals, corruption, lies, and character assassination: It isn’t just for breakfast anymore. It’s become part of our daily diet. Just watch CNN, for Pete’s sake.
One magical night, a lonely young boy named John makes a special wish that his teddy bear will come to life and be his best friend. And on that special night, the fates decide to grant him his wish. The next morning, John introduces Teddy to his absolutely freaked-out parents. Flash-forward 25 years, and John has grown up into a strapping young man who looks astonishingly like Mark Wahlberg. Best friend, Teddy, now just called plain Ted, has grown up, too, but only in maturity…or lack thereof. John and Ted now spend their afternoons getting high in front of the tube and talking trash about women.
With each passing year, we seem to be witnessing the further shrinkage of the gender gap, and so movies like A League of Their Own are ever-more fascinating. It shares with modern movie audiences the little-known true tale of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, created to help keep the national pastime alive while the menfolk were off fighting World War II. The idea was met with much resistance at the time, and so the girls face challenges off the field as well as on.
When an older and quite esteemed film expert asked me not long ago what my favorite genre was, I was honestly flummoxed. Pixar isn’t a genre, and I’ve just seen too many lame science-fiction flicks. Looking back over a life of film fandom and the past decade in particular, I finally came up with an eyebrow-raising response: comic book movies.
One of silent film’s biggest stars, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), enlists the talents of a down-on-his-luck Hollywood screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) to help edit a screenplay she wrote in hopes of launching her big comeback. Little does Gillis know, the poor lady is off her rocker. But when you’re broke, you have to take work when you can get it. The pair watch her old movies with her trusty butler—who hides his own dirty secret—at the helm of the camera, but the more time Gillis spends with the ex-starlet, the more he becomes accustomed to the lavish lifestyle she provides him.
Moonrise Kingdom is another witty charmer from writer/director Wes Anderson, this time with a bittersweet tinge of youth’s passing in 1965 New England. The protagonists are two troubled 12-year-olds who run away to marry in the wilderness of insular New Penzance Island. Suzy’s parents are miserable, insufferable lawyers (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray). Suzy sees a lot (often through binoculars) and has discovered her mother is having an affair with the island policeman, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Sam is an orphan with outstanding wilderness skills, who resigns from his Khaki Scout troop (in writing!) and is not invited back to his foster family if found. His only family is the troop of Khaki Scouts led by the well-meaning but overmatched Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton).
There’s an old expression: “God is in the details.” This was never truer for a film than Ridley Scott’s visceral dystopian masterpiece Blade Runner. It’s not uncommon for a motion picture to be released in more than one version or cut for the public’s delectation. Many times, a filmmaker’s original vision is compromised in favor of releasing a more commercially marketable product by the studio putting up the money. As a result, director’s cuts, extended cuts, and special editions are much more prevalent now in the digital age and home video market. Few films, however, have seen as many versions or received as much scrutiny as Blade Runner.
Steve Martin stars as Neal Page, an uptight advertising executive who misses his scheduled flight from New York to Chicago when an obnoxious salesman steals his cab. As fate would have it, the cab thief turns out to be a shower curtain ring salesman (John Candy) who just happens to sit next to Neal on his flight home. Due to inclement weather, their plane is diverted to Wichita, and when they land, Neal fails to secure a place to stay for the evening. Lucky for him, his new “friend” has booked the last room in town. Thus begins a relationship made in heaven—or hell, depending on your perspective.
Lawrence of Arabia may be the last extravagant blockbuster that was also a great film. It’s nearly four hours long, much of it consisting of men galloping on camels through the desert, shot on location with a cast of hundreds, no sex, almost no women—yet this is riveting, heart-pounding stuff, and witty, to boot. It’s based on the true story of T.E. Lawrence, the romantic British officer who led a gaggle of bedouin armies against Turkish strongholds in World War I, helped bring down the Ottoman Empire, came to believe his own myths and see himself as a demigod—and thus became a delusional monster. The film has the feel of a grand epic and an intimate psychodrama. It’s an adventure, a clash of cultures, and a tragedy.
Young Merida may be a princess in the misty highlands of Scotland, but she isn’t happy with her lot. She wants only to practice her horsemanship, archery, and all other manner of un-princess-like behavior. Her father is delighted, but her mother is beside herself and arranges for the neighboring clans to vie for Merida’s hand in marriage. Our heroine, however, isn’t all that thrilled by the idea—and even less by the suitors. Fleeing into the woods, Merida stumbles upon a witch and has her cast a spell to make her mother change. Her mother does change, but unfortunately not exactly as Merida intended.
In many ways, Norman Babcock is a typical kid trying to find his way in the world. He enjoys watching TV with his grandma, gets bullied at school, and what he wants more than anything is acceptance. Unfortunately, Norman has a certain ability that seems to turn people off—he can see and speak with the dead. In fact, his grandma has been dead for a while, and whenever he mentions to his family that he enjoys spending time with her, Mom and Dad kind of freak out. Poor Norman is considered the town freak of Blithe Hollow because of his ability, but little do the townspeople know that the young man is about to save them from a witch who was executed more than 300 years earlier and is seeking her pound of flesh.
It’s not exactly a secret that Sony Pictures produced a fabulously successful trilogy of Spider-man films from 2002 to 2007. All three were directed by Sam Raimi and starred Tobey Maguire as the resident arachnid. Though the last of the three laid something of a critical egg, it was nevertheless a golden one at the box office. The Amazing Spider-Man is not a sequel but instead a complete reboot, origin story and all. Clearly, Sony was hoping to re-invigorate the franchise. Judging from its commercial success, I’d say it succeeded.